29 September 2010

Rita - Erotica/ Sexologie

Rita - Erotica

Label: Major Minor
Year of Release: 1969

Sometimes when you obtain second-hand records, you're given subtle clues about the personal preferences and habits of their previous owners.  My copy of "Flames" by Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera, for example, has "MILLWALL FC" scrawled over-enthusiastically across the label - though I can't really think of a link between the two myself.  This record, I'm sorry to say, had a sticky mess across the vinyl I had to remove with an alcohol based cleaner.  Whether the sticky mess was actually the substance I had in my worst fears or not I wouldn't like to say.

"Erotica" is, after all, probably one of the saucier "Je T'Aime" related records to have leaked out during the late sixties.  It's five minutes of the inappropriately named Rita (I mean, really, Rita has to be one the least erotic names ever, surely?  Or a couple of rungs down from Ursula at least) puffing, groaning and climaxing to a funky rhythm.  Atop the groove is a psychedelic, organ driven jam which isn't terribly unlike Pink Floyd during their prime, ending in some bizarre "Careful With That Axe, Eugene" styled disorientation, making this a pretty unusual choice for a single.  It was certainly never going to get airplay, and there's nothing soft, sensual or gentle about the track itself, so it was primarily depending on shock value to generate the sales which never came.  It is a genuinely engaging piece of work, though, and if it weren't for the porno feel to the entire thing I'm sure we'd have heard a lot more about it - and given the fact that Lil Louis' "French Kiss" was an orgasmic club hit in the nineties, it's surprising that a few more retro-minded DJs haven't picked up on this yet.

The B-side "Sexologie" is rather more restrained, sounding as if it could be the new theme tune to "Bottom" should Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson ever get a chance to make another series.  Which is appropriate, given that "Erotica" is the kind of single the character Eddie would have owned and treasured himself...

25 September 2010

Second Hand Record Dip Part 61 - Tempest - We'll Find A Way/ Jimmy Cricket - Harvey the Turkey

Jimmy Cricket - Harvey the Turkey

Who: Vic Andrews and The Challenge (Tempest)/ Jimmy Cricket
What: "We'll Find A Way"/ "Harvey The Turkey"
Label: Sunny
When: 198?
Where: Music and Video Exchange, Camden High Street, London
Cost: 50p

Charity singles are a perplexing concept at the best of times.  After all, if it's a choice between donating money directly to charity or buying an all-star ensemble sing-a-long version of some bygone hit with tenuous links to the cause in question, why do so many people feel the need to take the vinyl or CD souvenir?  When you factor in the fact that somewhere along the line the record usually has some cash either going to the label, the pressing plant or the distributors, the question becomes more pertinent.  I'm not crying "rip off!" in all cases here (and certainly not this one, which as we'll establish I know nothing about) but it's a phenomenon that's never made much sense to me.

This is probably one of the most bizarre examples I've ever found nestling in the shelves of the second hand record store.  The profits are split between two unrelated charities (World Aids Day and The Training Trust), and efforts divided between two different artists - serious rockers "Tempest" and old school comedian Jimmy Cricket.  Whilst information about both worthy causes is available on the rear of the sleeve for all to see and appreciate, it contains no information about how the project came to be, what year it was released in (most online sources suggest it's a nineteen eighty-something effort) and what on earth Jimmy Cricket has to do with the world of rawk.  My intention is not necessarily to mock somebody else's hard labour for a good cause here, but wonder about the back-story.  Was this some lowly music industry executive doing their best to do their bit?  Was it some local kid's little venture into fundraising?  Was it the work of several individuals who couldn't quite decide what charity to throw their entire weight behind?  There's probably a whole biopic to be produced about this record, but the contents themselves and the spartan black and white sleeve give very little away.

As for the music, on the one hand Tempest sound like a mean eighties stadium rock band, growling their way in a determined fashion through a mini-anthem about finding a way to succeed.  It's not clear who they are, and they don't seem to be any of the bands called Tempest a simple Google search throws in my direction.  For his part, Jimmy Cricket donates a slightly strange and oddly unfunny tale about a pet turkey, which almost sounds like an attempt to crack the long-dormant novelty country record market.  Presumably the two efforts were supposed to pull in as broad an audience as possible - Cricket for the oldsters, and Tempest for the mean rockers whiffing of grease and Breaker beer.  Sadly, both parties seemed to look the other way, as it didn't chart, and thus it becomes the latest in a long line of "Left and to the Back" enigmas.  If you know more, you know what to do.

22 September 2010

Blessed Ethel - Rat

Blessed Ethel - Rat

Label: 2 Damn Loud
Year of Release: 1994

These days, when a consortium of critics and music industry insiders get together to name who the most important artists of the coming year will be, there's little danger involved.  Trends are easy to predict.  Does the band have 768,000 MySpace fans already?  Have they just been signed for a lot of money by a cash-strapped major label who absolutely has to see a return on their investment?  Are they Brit school graduates?  With every year's announcements, you can almost hear the noise of check-boxes being ticked.

It wasn't always thus.  In the nineties, predictions were likely to be very wonky indeed, which is how Blessed Ethel infamously got voted above Oasis as being the band most likely to succeed at the Manchester "In The City" live event.  This isn't as unusual as it sounds.  In the early nineties, suspicions in the music press were rife that Oasis were nothing more than a re-heated baggy band.  Blessed Ethel, on the other hand, had vitriol and a sneering energy which sounded much more of the moment - elements of the still relatively topical Riot Grrrl movement were apparent, and much was made of the band's oddball outsiderness, an absolute virtue in those pre-Britpop days.  The NME and Melody Maker wanted weird kids in the charts back then, not everyman styled stars.

We all know how the story ended.  Blessed Ethel did not conquer the world, but "Rat" gives some clues as to how they might just have given the impression they could.  It's ferocious garage rock with hysterical vocals; breathless, desperate and really rather brilliant in its own way.  True, at the time this would have been no more or less original than Oasis' known output, but the full-throttle nature of the single showcases a band keen to leave a scalding great mark.  Compare it back-to-back with an Oasis demo such as "Cigarettes and Alcohol", and everyone's favourite monobrowed pop stars suddenly sound  less fierce, less full of themselves.

As for any musicians reading this who may have recently lost a "Battle of the Bands" contest... take heart.  It means nothing.

19 September 2010

Jigsaw - Mr. Job

Jigsaw - Mr. Job

Label: Music Factory
Year of Release: 1968

One of the most popular videos on YouTube right now is the hipster-baiting "Being A Dickhead's Cool" which has now clocked up two million views (and by the time you read this may even have managed half a million more).  It's neither the first nor the last time that hipsters or Hoxtonites have been mocked, of course, but the extreme popularity of this attempt seems to point towards the fact that the trend has had its ironic 8-bit chips.  Irrespective of your personal views, once a youth movement reaches saturation point and becomes ripe for mainstream satire, the writing is on the wall.  Nobody batted an eyelid when "Nathan Barley" was first broadcast in 2005 - now things are getting almost violent, with some people reporting "hipster bashing" in bars and clubs around East London.

Whenever I'm in the presence of an older person who attended the UFO club in 1967 and start talking about these things, an interesting thing happens - I'm just told that history is repeating itself.  "Why, young man," they'll tell me, patting me on the shoulder, "it's no different.  The hippies were predominantly public school types slumming it in London, despised by the working class mods for their pretentious, facile DIY art projects and rather simplistic slogans and messages about how everything would be all right if everyone just chilled out a bit, yeah?  Hate the hipsters, and chances are you'd probably have hated the hippies too."  John Peel himself even made a similar observation about the limitations of the hippy movement, stating quite blankly that "the problem was they were trying to drop out just as everyone else was trying to drop in".

So this brings us on to "Mr. Job" here, which appears to be a single (originally composed and performed by the Alan Bown Set) mocking a working class handiman.  "Working with your hands, but I can't understand your mentality", they sneer.  "It's a waste of time!" Jigsaw sing to a man who probably has no safety net to speak of, and is just trying to get by.  However, before we bash Jigsaw about their heads with a copy of Socialist Worker, it's worth noting that the tone takes on an ambiguous nature as well, noting that the man is doing it "all for his mother" and he's "never earned a wage" and is "passing the time".  So what are they on about, then?  Is this about an inept man on a DIY mission around his mother's house, or something else entirely?  Only Alan Bown knows.  There's enough fairy dust here to shroud the whole tune in doubt, and not put it in the same category as (for example) The Plague's "Here Today Gone Tomorrow".

Whatever their intentions, musically this is a strong enough record, having a thumping jauntiness which recalls The Idle Race.  The B-side "Great Idea" is also far stronger, a feelgood little belter which swings along like a grinning Coco Pops monkey.  Jigsaw went on to have a hit single with "Sky High" in the seventies, but a lot of their sixties output was arguably stronger, and should have had the same degree of attention.

18 September 2010

One Hit Wonders #14 - Louise Cordet - I'm Just A Baby

Louise Cordet - I'm Just A Baby

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1962

Whilst during the early sixties the charts were a relatively sluggish, straightforward place predominantly filled with gently melodic, middle of the road family fun, 1962 allowed a Swiss convent school attending god-daughter of Prince Philip to climb to number 13 with this slice of sauce.

Despite her relative immaturity, "I'm Just A Baby" appears to be warning us that she wouldn't be averse to some heavy petting action.  "I'm big enough to make the boys all stare", she sings defiantly and proudly, adding "ring a ding ding!" later on, which makes me wonder what everyone's favourite Greek racist Prince made of it all.  Somehow I suspect he probably approved, or perhaps it was even his idea.

"I'm Just A Baby" is proof positive that the use of teenage girls to suggestive ends is a pop trend which almost pre-dates The Beatles (who she supported on tour) and will probably remain an option for as long as the record buying public find it either shocking or arousing.  There is, however, a swinging air of innocence about this record which later attempts at cornering the market perhaps wouldn't be so full of.  You get the impression that a kiss and some dewy-eyed hand holding might be all you'll get if you do accept her proposition, that she enjoys the attention more than any action.  Tsk.  Those convent school girls and their wicked ways...  it's a stereotype without an end.

Still, for all her status in high society, money couldn't buy Cordet another hit single - further singles were largely ignored, and the music industry gave up on her by 1964.

15 September 2010

Microdisney Singles Update (Birthday Girl, Singer's Hampstead Home, Gale Force Wind)

I think I've probably waffled on at length about Microdisney more than most bands, so for an overview of their previous work and career, it probably makes sense to simply skim back over the old entries.

What I'm doing here is scrabbling together the last remains I have of their 45 back catalogue (although there's nothing to say I won't stumble upon more examples over the next few years) placed here so that you, the Microdisney fan - or the soon-to-be Microdisney fan - can enjoy some of the odder moments in their catalogue.

Microdisney - Birthday Girl

Birthday Girl
Label: Rough Trade
Year of Release: 1985

"Birthday Girl" was supposedly the single which caught the eyes of Richard Branson's slaves at the Virgin headquarters, and won the band a major label contract.  Listening to it again as part of the "Clock Comes Down The Stairs" download, it's easy to hear why - this is wonderful stuff.

Equally intriguing, however, is the lesser-heard B-side "Harmony Time" which chooses a jaunty, twanging melody to undercut some anti-Thatcherite lyrics.  "If you want luncheon in your lap/ knife your neighbour in the back/ if you don't do it/ somebody else will" sneers Cathal at one point, emphasising the prevailing culture of the time (which still exists in London and the South East to this day, regrettably).  It was a strange track to relegate to B-side status, given that it outperforms a lot of the "Crooked Mile" album they went on to release.

Odd, off-kilter B-sides were definitely forthcoming, though...

Microdisney - Gale Force Wind

Gale Force Wind
Label: Virgin
Year of Release: 1988

I've never heard a satisfactory answer as to why three different versions of the rather tacky "I Can't Say No" found their way on to the twelve inch version of "Gale Force Wind".  It could have been that the band were trying to piss Virgin Records off - they were certainly at the tail end of their contract by this point, with little hope of a renewal - or it could have been that this was all a private joke the rest of us will never be party to.

I suspect the former, however, as Cathal is heard to utter "What song would our record company like us to do?" at the start of one version, before an inappropriate and rather tuneless Eastern version of the ditty begins.  The "Hackney Aid" version even features assorted cockneys talking about how shit Microdisney are.  It's an interesting one, and no mistake.

"Gale Force Wind", on the other hand, is another anti-yuppie, anti-Conservative piece of greatness, but you all knew that anyway.

1. Gale Force Wind
2. I Can't Say No (Betty Lou Version)
3. I Can't Say No (Thank You For Speaking To Me Mustapha)
4. I Can't Say No (Hackney Aid)

Microdisney - Singer's Hampstead Home

Singer's Hampstead Home
Label: Virgin
Year of Release: 1988

Whether "Singer's Hampstead Home" was a genuine tirade against Boy George's excursions into "Hello" magazine or just an attack on that celebrity culture generally is unclear.  The B-sides, however, are peculiar indeed - "Brother Olaf" is a queer old piece, whereas "She Only Gave Into Her Anger" sprawls all over the shop in a manner more akin to the Fatima Mansions records Cathal Coughlan would later create.  The brief segment of the song aping a British Rail advert is so unexpected it's actually hilarious, which was probably the intention.

If I come across any more of these goodies, rest assured you'll be the first to know.

1. Singer's Hampstead Home
2. Brother Olaf
3. She Only Gave Into Her Anger

11 September 2010

One Hit Wonders #13 - Rock Candy - Remember

Rock Candy - Remember

Label: MCA
Year of Release: 1971

Rumours have troubled the Internet for some time that Rock Candy, far from being a proper band, were just a seventies pseudonym for Chip Hawkes and Alan Blakley of The Tremeloes.  The songwriting credits here would certainly suggest some heavy involvement with the track, but as for whether they were effectively Rock Candy (in the same manner as 100 Ton and a Feather were Jonathan King) isn't something I've been able to establish one way or another.

Whatever, the A-side here "Remember" is a happy clappy sort of ditty which sounds custom designed for drunken singalongs.  Clearly it registered with a few party-goers at the time, as it managed to chart at number 32 - but that was the only hit in their career, as two further singles ("Roly" and "Some Fine Day") failed to generate the same level of interest.

More interesting to my ears is the stripped-back acoustic B-side "Don't Put Me Down", which sounds like a product of the previous decade.  Elements of the track have a wistful, melancholy air which The Kinks would have happily utilised five or six years prior to this single being released, and whilst it sounds as if it might have been a demo given B-side status, it doesn't stop it from being a charming piece of work.  

Naturally, as I always do when ignorance reigns, I'll finish my entry with a simple request: Anyone who knows anything more about Rock Candy, please do leave a comment with some information about their background.  It's quite rare for anyone with a Top 40 hit to their name - however minor - to have such an air of mystery about them.

8 September 2010

Second Hand Record Dip Part 60 - Singing Corner meets Donovan - Jennifer Juniper

Singing Corner meets Donovan - Jennifer Juniper

Who: The Singing Corner (aka Trevor and Simon) and Donovan
What: Jennifer Juniper
Label: Mercury
When: 1990
Where: Music and Video Exchange, Camden High Street, London
Cost: 50p

Comedy double-act Trevor and Simon will probably always be regarded as a rather peculiar anomaly.  Originally jobbing circuit comedians, they were spotted by the BBC and asked to perform a regular turn on children's Saturday morning show "Going Live".  Strict instructions were issued to the effect that they should not make their act too rude, but otherwise not make any effort to tailor their work specifically to children.  "Be yourselves, lads," seemed to be the mantra emerging from Shepherd's Bush.

As absurd as it sounds, that's how their fictional duo The Singing Corner, who parodied the twee excesses of the sixties folkies (not least Peter and Gordon, I'd have thought) crashed down into the nineties morning television schedules.  What on Earth nineties schoolchildren got out of their versions of Donovan's "I Love My Shirt" and "We're Going to the Zoo" is a question which doesn't seem to have bothered very many people before or since - but absurdly, the whole venture worked.  "I Love My Shirt" was quoted in playgrounds by children you suspect would otherwise never have heard it, repeated endlessly at the behest of keen viewers, and eventually Donovan himself was persuaded to release a novelty single with the pair.

Sadly, a redux version of "I Love My Shirt" was not forthcoming, which was surely what the public wanted.  A new version of "Jennifer Juniper" was recorded instead, which wasn't as effective.  Donovan's presence in the studio also shatters the impact of the piss-taking somewhat, given that Trevor and Simon played up the drippy hippy-ness of the tunes in a tremendously cartoonish, Austin Powers way.  When placed next to Donovan's hushed vocals it seems too extreme, too laboured, and not subtle enough.  It in fact highlights the strengths of the original song and makes it seem as if two gimps have broken into the studio, grabbed some master tapes, and made silly comments over the top of a Donovan recording for three minutes.  It was a move that caused Rowland Rivron on "Jukebox Jury" to argue that they'd "bastardised" the song.  If the three had taken "Shirt", a song so enjoyably ridiculous it's almost hard to understand how it existed in the first place, then a top ten hit would have been assured.  This, on the other hand, was an attempt at vandalism on something which was never that absurd or risible to begin with.

All three artists are still going to greater or lesser extents, with Trevor and Simon still doing podcast work and occasional BBC broadcasts, and Donovan thrilling live audiences with his slightly fey form of folk.  This single, however, is unlikely to feature high on the CVs of any of the individuals concerned.  Maybe they genuinely were on drugs at the time...

4 September 2010

Tintern Abbey - Beeside/ Vacuum Cleaner

Tintern Abbey - Beeside/ Vacuum Cleaner

Label: Deram
Year of Release: 1967

No points for originality here, then.  "Beeside" backed with "Vacuum Cleaner" (rather than "Vacuum Cleaner" backed with "Beeside" as would be logical) is one of the most collectible British Psychedelic discs of all time, frequently selling for four figure sums.  Verily, I will bet that even David Dickinson is aware of the value of this one, such is its startling pricetag.  And before you ask for my address so you can come around and burgle my flat, yes, my copy is one of the re-issues rather than the original, which I'd be lucky to get ten pounds for.

When the value of a record raises to such preposterous heights, questions must be asked about how it got way up there. In the case of this single, the fact that this is a marvellous piece of work helps - even Record Mirror acknowledged at the time of its release that Tintern Abbey were "one of the most promising new outfits in a long time".  They continued to say that "This could be a first time hit; certainly is a value-for-money coupling".  Sadly, a December release date probably meant that the trippy, summery vibes of the record got lost amidst the festive season, and it sold terribly.  It took a long time before its quality was appreciated, as decades down the line it became ripe for appearances on numerous sixties compilation albums, beginning with the "Chocolate Soup for Diabetics" series and finishing (to the best of my knowledge) with an American appearance on the iconic "Nuggets II" box set.

Over the years, however, much has been made of the record's B-side "Vacuum Cleaner" over its perversely titled top side "Beeside", almost as if the title of that track has become some kind of self-fulfilling prophesy.  That's a deep pity, because it is actually the superior song in my view, filled with tinkling piano lines, mellotron lines, shimmering effects, and some suspicously Syd Barretty "la la la la la" echoing effects - suspicious because I suspect Syd ripped off Tintern Abbey on "Jugband Blues" rather than vice versa, incidentally, as the dates of release conclusively prove.  Syd even lived in the same Earl's Court block of flats as the band's bass player Stuart MacKay and borrowed his records; could a copy of this possibly have been amongst them?

"Vacuum Cleaner", on the other hand, is something of a club favourite purely for having a bit more of a groove behind it, and it's not without its merits either, but stops short of being amazing.  The track was devised when the police believed the band had come into a lot of expensive amplification equipment through dishonest means, and they found themselves having to hoover up all evidence of drug use in their shared abode in case they dropped by to inspect the premises in more detail.  The guitar solo on this track is treated with special "vacuum cleaner noise" effects which wouldn't (to the best of my knowledge) be repeated again until The Farmer's Boys used an actual vacuum cleaner on one of their records in the eighties.  In a rather unconnected way, the lyrics seem to be concerned with a rejection of materialistic values.

For all the undeniable promise on display here, Tintern Abbey didn't last - after this single, the group splintered, but all was not entirely lost.  Lead singer David MacTavish joined the frankly brilliant Velvet Opera, another unfairly overlooked act.

(Both sides are commercially available in all the usual places, and both Side A and Side B can be heard on YouTube).

1 September 2010

Breeze - Volume One (EP)

Breeze - Volume One

Label: Spaceward
Year of Release: 1976

"Why," I suspect you've sometimes wondered to yourselves, "do so few recording studios have successful labels?"  And you'd be right - this is indeed a puzzler.  Recording studio managers should, by rights, be among the first people to be aware of the local talent passing through their doors, and what possible heights they may be able to climb to.  Sadly, it doesn't really work that way.  Most of the small indie labels out there run by studio managers have been, it's not unkind to say, awful.  The two I've had the closest awareness of (who I'm not prepared to name) mainly issued rock bands indulging in the most OTT forms of fretboard wankery.

It figures that the majority of studio owners are techy-geeks and musos, and many of those people tend to favour technical proficiency over imagination or artistry.  If that weren't enough of a minus point, studio labels also tend to be regarded by guys and girls with asymmetrical haircuts and world domination on their minds as dusty, cobwebby little projects run by middle-aged people with more keys on their belt than they have high-ranking industry contacts.  Releasing a single through Wooden Horse Studio Records of Kent sounds utterly lacking in aspiration - why do that when you could create your own, thrusting DIY label and pretend to be no-strings-attached freewheeling anarchists about town instead (even though your manager works for EMI music)?  But there again, there's an exception to every rule - Oak Records, for example, were tied to RG Jones studios in South London and issued many cult beat singles in the sixties.  Spaceward, on the other hand, have apparently developed a bit of a reputation in some circles for issuing some fairly nice rock and prog records during the seventies.  And guess what?  This isn't one of them.

It's not that this EP is bad, it's just that - despite the fact that it's frequently advertised as "prog pop" on ebay - it's closer to being enjoyably facile guitar-based pop of the strictly-under-three minutes variety.  These are tunes your grandmother could whistle, tunes the milkman would sing whilst being made redundant, tunes the chirpy Merseybeat chaps of yore would have happily performed down the Cavern club.  It's just they were recorded in a very hippy-ish studio in Cambridge in the seventies, a whole decade too late.

For all their quaint, out-of-time desire to keep songs cute, short and simple, there is something slightly ahead of 1976 about Breeze too.  Shoot forward five years to the birth of the janglier end of indie-pop, and compare and contrast.  You too may agree that, with slightly plugged ears, there's a flowery whiff of the emerging twee boys about Breeze - a slight quaver around the vocals which is vaguely reminiscent of the as-yet-undiscovered (and probably at-that-moment-doing-his-homework) Edwyn Collins, and the foot-tapping innocence of The Farmer's Boys.  The simple joyfulness of the melodies is also faintly rebellious at a time when the emerging sounds were either aggressive and jagged, or ridiculously elaborate.  It's difficult to say which 1976 audience Breeze were going for, apart from perhaps one that didn't actually exist yet.

As for who they were and what became of them, we will possibly never know unless one of them sees this blog entry and chooses to comment.  They were either some very strange kids with minds of their own, or ageing sixties musicians refusing to change their stripes.  Place your bets.

1. Things To Make You Change Your Mind
2. Hey Girl
3. Do A Little
4. Hooked On You